Thursday, September 15, 2016

13 Core Virtues Penned by Benjamin Franklin

There are many modern blog articles and magazine articles that are always attempting to provide us with sage advice. Sometimes however, it's nice to go back to the great orators and writers of long ago. They lived in slower times and they didn't have the glut of written work we do today. They had every incentive to make sure that every word they put out was of the highest quality.

One of the simplest and most succinct wisdom ever written down by one of our forefathers, Benjamin Franklin, is nothing more than a short 13-line list. It's called "Franklin's 13 Virtues."

He seems to set out with the list to educate a person on how to maintain a person' vigilance and awareness without becoming overly entangled with the affairs of mainstream humankind. He seems to set out to encourage a sort of mental and spiritual sobriety that's rooted in balance and a kind of wisdom that is able to capture some of the big-picture thinking that makes great leaders.

He starts out his list with Temperance.

Temperance is defined as: moderation or self-restraint.

Here, Franklin seems to be encouraging people harbor a kind of long-term impact vision that is propelled by a sustainable and balanced approach to living and working. It can be all too easy to become engrossed in the rat race that leads men to excess stress and, in the end, a destructive rather than productive mindset and atmosphere.

His second virtue is Silence.

Great writers, leaders, scientists, teachers, or any kind of professional can gain great benefit through the giving of time towards momentary silence and review. A few moments of quiet "me time" in your day has the power to give the body and mind some much needed rest in our sometimes fast-paced world. When we consciously choose to take stock of our feelings and whatever's on our plate so we can refresh our perspective or drop things which aren't currently important - we are able to clear the mind and emotions of excess clutter and connect to those points within our psyche which knows better how to solve our life choices/challenges.

His next virtue is Order.

Order can make even the most complex tasks or projects have some level of organization. One nice thing about order is it can help us manage the natural emergent properties in life. If we develop for ourselves a set of simple core habits in our daily and weekly routines, we can branch off those core habits with direct action for specific tasks. It's amazing how powerfully a simple task can carry over into multiple realms and subjects.

Consciously adding a little order to your day or to the way you engage with a project will enhance the way you view every new task. Order will build "places" in your mind where you may put new knowledge or connections. Order stems from discipline and from creating a quiet kind of inner awareness that exists beneath the challenges or work.

One buzzword of modern times which would actually be worthy of adding in this discussion of this list would be the "Flow State." This is a concept which has been studied from a scientific perspective a great deal. A Flow State is where a person is so focused and entranced in their workflow or their performance (for a sport, a musical piece, or even a workout routine) that they are integrating their subconscious mind and their behavior almost seems to bubble up from some magical place within themselves. The Flow State tends to be a state of mind where a person has become concentrated on the sequences of events and upon the beauty of these rhythms and thus the flow of time itself is almost an afterthought because it is all really wrapped up into the performance....into the sequence of events that comprises the event or project.

To harness the power of the Flow State, it helps to practice a type of meditating I have coined as "Meditation in Motion." This type of meditating is where one is purposefully noticing the feelings and thoughts within themselves and how even the seeming randomness of some of these neural or emotional events/connections can actually hint at a deeper narrative involving your integral spiritual connection with nature.

The 4th virtue penned by Franklin is Resolution.

Resolution is defined as: a firm decision to do or not to do something.

Resolution is in my opinion very similar to the concept of self-discipline. You would say that a procrastinator is someone who continually says they are going to complete a task or start a project and they just keep putting it off longer and longer. This person lacks the necessary self-will and determination to make sure they are following through with their vision for themselves. This person can easily become stuck in a cycle of laziness where they wonder why life isn't working out the way they desire. Discipline and Resolution are important character traits in every successful person's life. Developing Resolution is as important as higher education.

To develop resolution, it may help to review the patterns of your behavior. It's also important to be able to get into a creative flow-state and to commit your thoughts and feeling rationally and "linearly." You can do this directly for your work if you are writing. You may also do this in a meta-sense as you review your consistency and goal achievement if you track your progress with a personal journal. The important thing is to break up your tasks into reasonable chunks rather than at first giving yourself very difficult tasks and then excusing your inability to complete them. This has the problem of allowing yourself to fall into the habit of making excuses for your lack of productive output.

Number 5 on the list is Frugality.

Frugality is one of those undeniably useful traits in business and personal life because when you make resources and finances go further, you retain more value for your shareholders or family. In keeping with a mostly personal angle, it's often very alluring to look for those productivity tools which we imagine will somehow magically enhance our project success or double or triple our output. That next big thing is sure to make our lives so much easier, right? Well, you might gain some benefits by using that high-performance, top-shelf pen or going for the most decked-out laptop, etc. But it's often the case that you can get just as much bang for your buck by going with a middle of the line solution. And, besides, if you lack the internal personal dedication and skills, then even the fanciest hardware won't make you succeed. My advice is work on the personal application by building the mental "technologies" as your primary focus and then focus secondarily on the physical hardware or resources which might make your job a little easier.

At the least, make sure that the resources you are investing in are thoroughly researched and you think critically about how you will implement the tools into you and your team's workflow. You will get the best results if you have a well-established plan for how you use any new tools you invest in.

Next on the list is Industry.

Industry is basically a focused effort which can lead to innovation and very meaningful progress that provides solid utility. Industry combines discipline with creativity and thinking outside the box. Industry can lead a person to experiencing flow states more and more regularly. Industry is what separates leaders from the pack. Industry is gained by re-framing and by building and working consistently with mental models. By visualizing systems using mental models that work as much with the in-between connections as with the nodes, we get our minds used to the habit of seeing practical solutions for simplifying our lives or improving a system which has become overly heavy with complexity.

Number 7 is Sincerity.

Sincerity is a way of rooting even the most sophisticated and "high-minded" mental inventions through the lens of practicality with an eye for the real effective output it will have on our business or personal lives. Sincerity also keeps a person in a state of consistent progression from week to week and month to month. With the proper integration of emotions with your consciousness, you have "skin in the game," emotional buy-in, and the proper incentives. You know your "why" for working and living the way you do.

It can be surprisingly easy to get lost in routine habits which are either wholly ineffective or performed in an efficient routine. For example, many people begin their days checking their e-mail and then they automatically start their day in a reactive manner that puts their power into the reactive state depending on whatever emails and newsletters they have received in their inbox. Many successful people have learned to deal with their e-mail at mid-morning or perhaps in the afternoon. Some people even have a schedule where they only handle their inbox once every 2 or 3 days.

Sincerity in this list is teaching us to have purpose in everything we do. Without that guiding light, we will become lost in a sense of duty that doesn't fully match our core values. When a person is always taking actions that (from the smallest details up to the highest behaviors) all form a cohesive narrative supporting their core narrative, that person will see massive success. This is how every wildly successful startup goes from 0 to exponential in short periods of time.

Distraction and Self-Delusion/Denial are the two big enemies of Sincerity. Always be true to yourself and your core purpose. Know your Why.

Number 8 on Benjamin Franklin's list is Justice.

I think he adds justice to the list because doing right to your fellow man is almost always good business sense. It's true that sometimes cutting corners are cheating people can seem to give you a sense of success for a short while but it almost always precedes a ruined reputation that follows your business and maybe even your personal reputation. In life, few things are as coveted as a good brand or good reputation. A good reputation has the power to connect you with the higher value customers and business partners that you will want as you push your business or personal life forward. And of course once a reputation becomes damaged, it can be very hard to recover.

If you have employees, you will also see the benefits of talent retention and long-term productivity by fairly compensating your workforce and maintaining a positive and forward-thinking work environment.

Number 9 is Moderation.

For this one, I think a good example is art. Whether you would like to use the analogy of a painting or drawing...or of a piece of writing, the thing all of these creative works have in common is that the best of the best have a knack for knowing when their work as reached its ideal state. And then they withhold the brush from the canvas or the pencil from the paper. Or they set down the pen for a bit. And they take a moment to review their work so far. They may finish with a few more strokes of the pen or the brush but they are careful to avoid "over-producing" the work.

This also holds true in the work involved in other productive activities. Doing enough to accomplish your core values without overtaxing yourself or your team is the key to "keeping the main thing the main thing." The most dangerous effect of doing too much meta-stuff that is outside of your core values is that you will potentially become distracted and lose traction with the main tasks and goals you have set.

The next on the list is Cleanliness.

As has been quoted for ages, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

Cleanliness is a way of instituting simplicity, focus, discipline, and organization into your direct environment. It's true that sometimes you just need to work amid the chaos or at a "messy desk" as part of the process but at most times it is refreshing to come to the table with the free-space that's ready to contain the day's fresh creative expression.

In a somewhat meta-sense, Cleanliness also somewhat applies to cleanly orchestrating your daily rituals and habits so that one doesn't endlessly veer off into tangents that set fire to your true course. If one looks at the 4th dimension of time/perspective as the primary foundation for working with the development of progress in our lives and the development of new products in 3D space, we'll have the proper attitude for navigating and mapping out our schedules and our day.

Number 11 is Tranquility.

Tranquility is defined: as the quality or state of being tranquil; calm.

I think some good synonyms for tranquility are "composure" and "poise."

Composure is defined: the state or feeling of being calm and in control of oneself.

And "Poise" is defined: graceful and elegant bearing in a person.

I personally love the concept of "poise" because it seems to describe a state of mind which is sort of cross-fading the practice of meditation and zen into everyday life activities. When you can handle everyday tasks with the same level of calmness and creative perception as one gains through a meditation practice, you are likely to handle stresses and challenges better than your peers who haven't trained this faculty. The fact is that these are states of mind that are trainable, measurable, and scientifically reproducible. We sometimes view emotions in an entirely different mental compartment from logic but emotions are integral for life mastery and self-actualization. Mastering our emotional body puts us in the driver's seat of life.

Mastering these emotions helps us get in touch with the deeper layers of mind and also "embodied cognition" which is sort of a whole-body awareness that helps us match all our organs and bodily functions with the task at hand rather than becoming trapped in the illusion that the only important faculty is mental or brain-based. It also helps encourage a kind of balance between different states of awareness or various areas of expertise or different points of focus. Then, rather than getting bogged down in the details or ruts of life, we can masterfully switch gears between tasks and choose the most efficient parts of our mind to accomplish any given task in the best way possible.

Number 12 on his list is Chastity.

I think this one also overlaps with a kind of spiritual sobriety that contains a person's core strengths and values without selling out to the crowd or selling oneself short through short-term lust for pleasure. It can be viewed more in the abstract as in maintaining a strong sense of value of oneself so that one maintains healthy connections with others or with their work. Chastity means different things to different people but every successful person seems to be able to have some level of compartmentalization between business and personal life that helps them focus on the right thing at the right place and time.

The last Virtue in Franklin's list is Humility.

I think this one is deceptively simple. None of us like to think of ourselves as arrogant or blind ot the role others inevitably play in the peripheries of our life. I think the best way to balance self-confidence with humility is to make sure that what you're doing is truly in service of other people and also to maintain the Sincerity and sense of purpose that will keep your mind grounded in the stream of life that others are also existing in. It can feel freeing to try to escape into your own little world at times. It can of course even lead to new discoveries or creativity so it's not bad to be somewhat reclusive or freethinking. It does seem wise, however, to make opportunities to connect with others in ways that emphasizes commonalities and encourages re-connection with your culture. It's good to understand how others perceive the world.

A good adjunct to Humility is the concept of Empathy. Empathy is the internal compass that is able to sense the conscience that is common to all of us. The business benefit of empathy and humility may seem out of place if one is thinking only in terms of bullish competitive business tactics but I think that the ability to truly capture the feelings or possible challenges and frustrations of your customer base is paramount when you want to cater to a large demographic.

Humility is an appreciation for the larger order...the larger reality. An to extend thigns even further and somewhat "spiritualize" the subject, we could rightfully say that humility can bring us into closer contact with the divine order and thus with key truths about what people are looking for, what people truly need, and where the world is heading.


Franklin's 13 virtues may be some three hundred years old but the wisdom encapsulated within those 13 simple words, if taken to heart, can make you a better human being. Of course, you should expect that like everything in life, you're going to need to fully practice implementing these character traits in your life if you want to make the most of these key habits. That's what these are: habits.

In closing, I truly wish you, the reader, the best of luck in your personal and business endeavors. I know that the times which I have practiced implementing these virtues, life has gone better for me. I hope you find the success you deserve and that the world recognizes the values you are capable of generating. You may be one light...but you are very, very bright.